The CPA and the left. Denis Freney
Introduction: Socialists and the Vietnam antiwar movement of the 1960 and 1970s
The recent movement against the imperialist war on Iraq was the biggest such movement the world has seen. There has been some dismay that it seems to have ebbed as quickly as it appeared. The Vietnam antiwar movement of the 1960s and early 1970s also surged and ebbed several times in the course of a very long struggle.
During that great upsurge there were many political experiences, arguments and conflicts, one of which we make available here: an exchange between Denis Freney and myself in the pages of The Old Mole, a leftist underground newspaper that was published out of Sydney University in 1970, at a crucial time in the antiwar struggle.
The Old Mole was frankly imitative of the London newspaper of the time, Red Mole. Both names hark back to Marx’s image, first used in The Eighteenth Brumaire of Louis Bonaparte, of the revolution as a mole burrowing quietly below ground and breaking to the surface occasionally, at which time: “Europe will leap from its seat and exult: ‘Well burrowed, old mole!'”
The Old Mole Workers Council, which published the newspaper, included Hall Greenland, Keith Windschuttle, Warren Osmond, Cathy Crawley and others. The paper lasted eight issues, and was pretty popular during its short life.
The exchange between myself and Denis Freney, along with the open letter about the organisation of the Vietnam Moratorium Campaign, reflects the tension between political struggle by various currents, and co-operation in a common cause, that characterised the Vietnam antiwar movement over a very long time.
The exchange was sharpened by the fact that Denis and I were immediate contemporaries and old associates who had eventually fallen out due to our different political trajectories.
Denis later wrote his autobiography, A Map of Days, in the early 1990s, before his early death, which included a rather unflattering view of myself. Denis was a good hater and he and I were both pretty robust polemicists.
We later debated some of the issues in his autobiography at a rather rowdy meeting attended by about 200 people in the Harold Park Hotel, which Anne Curthoys described in a witty article in Arena.
The political relationship between Freney and myself, and our common mentor, the veteran Australian Trotskyist Nick Origlass, is also covered in Hall Greenland’s exceedingly useful biography of Nick, Red Hot.
Two alternative views of the complicated history of the development of the antiwar movement in Australia, from the point of view of the official left, are left Labor MP Tom Uren’s lengthy autobiography, Straight left, and the recent biography of former Labor deputy prime minister Jim Cairns by Paul Strangio, called Keeper of the faith.
Both of these accounts are heavily biased in favour of the official left view of the time, but taken together with other material they are of some value.
This exchange between myself and Denis is of some historical significance because it includes a detailed discussion of the internal dynamics of the Moratorium movement, which grew into the largest antiwar mobilisation up to that time, and was only recently surpassed by the recent mobilisation against the Iraq war, on February 16.
Denis Freney, who sadly died prematurely in the early 1990s, is quite properly remembered most for his energetic and intelligent agitation against the Indonesian invasion of East Timor in 1975 and his support of the Timorese people in the years thereafter.
The Communist Party of Australia, of which Freney had just become a vigorous leader at the time of this exchange, had during the Stalin period usually been on the extreme left of international Stalinism. It carried on this tradition in its anti-Stalinist phase and became for a relatively brief period the most leftist of the “Eurocommunist” parties. For a more complete view of the CPA’s history and evolution, see The Communist Party of Australia in Australian Life and my review of Stewart MacIntyre’s The Reds.
After this period of relative “leftism”, some of it rhetorical ultraleftism, the CPA swung over in 1978-82 to being the main ideological inventor of the Prices and Incomes Accord between the incoming Labor government of Bob Hawke and the trade union movement, This dramatic shift to the right was effectively political suicide for the CPA as a current, and those CPA leaders of the 1960s, such as Eric Aarons, who are in some sense still politically active, now explicitly reject the socialist project of the 20th century as a quixotic aberration.
Nevertheless, at the moment of this exchange the CPA was still a powerful force, which recruited a layer of the more conservative left-wing students, many of whom are now prominent in social service organisations, academic life, government bureaucracies and the trade unions.
A useful and interesting biography of someone out of the CPA milieu of this period is Brad Norrington’s biography of Jennie George, former president of the ACTU, now a federal Labor MP.
One wing of the more leftist participants in the struggle described went on to the form the Socialist Workers League, which later became the Socialist Workers Party, and then the Democratic Socialist Party. Many of the people most closely associated with me went on to found the Socialist Labour League, which operated successfully for about 15 years until it more or less definitively imploded in 1986.
There was a moment in the mid-late 1970s when the CPA newspaper, Tribune, still sold 6000-7000 copies, the SWP newspaper, Direct Action, was selling a similar number and so was the SLL newspaper Workers News, which means between them socialist newspapers were selling about 20,000 Australia-wide. That approached the level of the CPA’s sales of its press at its peak during in the late 1940s.
One curious feature of The Old Mole was an article by Keith Windschuttle, now a propagandist for the political right, in which he repeatedly describes the police as “pigs”, in the uninhibited style of that time. Maybe we’ll put up that article sometime just to remind Brother Windshuttle of his earlier views.
July 18, 2003
From The Old Mole, No 3, June 29, 1970
Just over a year ago, over the four halcyon days of Easter 1969, the ultra-modern Teachers Federation auditorium in Sussex Street, Sydney, was the scene of the optimistically titled Left Action Conference. This intriguing gathering produced primarily by the organising genius of the Aarons faction of the Communist Party, drew an audience of 700, mostly student radicals, but including a couple of hundred working-class militants.
Papers were delivered by a motley collection of leftists: Laurie Aarons (CPA secretary), Bob Gould, Jack Heffernan of the Sheet Metal Workers Union (now ALP federal conference delegate), Dan O’Neill, Peter Wertheim, Denis Freney (then Revolutionary Socialist Alliance secretary, now Tribune journalist), Brian Laver, John Baker and Laurie Carmichael of the Victorian Amalgamated Engineering Union.
“Franc Tireurs”, Albert Langer and Darce Cassidy and their Bakery Battalions1 were prominent in the audience in self-inflicted guerilla role, conducting People’s War in their jungle greens against all and sundry on the platform.
This weekend was the political debut of immaculately dressed, self-proclaimed New Leftist Ken McLeod, who as conference organiser dominated the proceedings with that finely modulated air of unctuous omniscience that has since become so lovably familiar to activists in the recent Vietnam Moratorium.
Verbal hot air
The most striking feature of this gathering was the extraordinary lengths to which the Aarons faction of the Communist Party was prepared to go to curry favour with the student radicals. In particular, they were enraptured over silver-tongued, charismatic Brian Laver, Brisbane student leader, whose rousing speeches for “occupation of the factories”, “action committees as instruments of dual power”, and the like, were greeted with thunderous applause.
The following incident defined the atmosphere of the Left Action Conference perfectly. Laver moved a resolution that all future antiwar activity should have as its central proposition: “Support the National Liberation Front of South Vietnam”.
Local Sydney bogeyman Bob Gould moved an amendment to this motion that the central proposition should be the withdrawal of all troops from Vietnam. The Aarons faction overwhelmingly supported Laver’s proposition, strictly on the understanding, however, that it was only a lot of verbal hot air at a left gathering, in the good old Communist Party tradition.
As Max Ogden (CPA national committee member) retorted to somebody who was amused at the way he was voting: “Support the NLF is all right at a left conference.”
Communist Party hostility was reserved for groups like Resistance and the Monash Labour Club, and individuals like Bob Gould and Albert Langer, who set themselves, from different points of the political spectrum, in deliberate opposition the CPA, and are guilty of the awful crime, in the eyes of the CPA, of having built independent political structures separate from, and even in opposition to, the CPA.
Towards all the other radical student groups, no matter how eccentric their political posture, the CPA at this time maintained an attitude of total sweetness and light in the interests of trying to co-opt them into the CPA.
The Revolutionary Socialist Alliance
At this time, most of the radical youth and student groups were loosely associated in a ramshackle national coalition known as the RSA, which was set up with high hopes in 1969.
From its foundation this group was polarised into warring factions around a number of questions, the most determinant of which proved to be relations with the Aarons wing of the CPA.
While no one in the RSA disputed that the political positions held by the Aarons faction were better than those of their neanderthal Stalinist opponents in the CPA, the Resistance wing of the RSA distrusted the depth of the Aarons faction’s new-found anti-Stalinism and doubted their political good intentions in view of the fact that, for instance, the Aarons faction insisted that the Communist Party was to remain monolithic, and that they were to remain the only legally recognised faction in the party.
It follows from this view of the CPA that the role of the revolutionary socialists (and the RSA) was to build an independent organisation around a correct policy, essentially in political competition with the CPA in much the same way, in fact, as Resistance had been proceeding for some years, with a certain measure of success.
The opposition to this view was spearheaded by RSA secretary, schoolmaster Denis Freney, the perambulating Gestetner of the left, author of 231 separate open letters and other pieces of duplicated ephemera. Freney argued that Stalinism in the Communist Party was now definitively defeated and that the RSA should make a speedy junction with the CPA.
He was supported in this, but less emphatically, and with some qualifications, by his own group, International, and by Brian Laver and the Brisbane RSA.
At the height of this political dispute, just after the Left Action Conference, a fruity old bricks-and-mortar conflict of interests developed between, on the one hand, the Third World Bookshop-Resistance complex and on the other the Young Socialist League (the then declining and now defunct CP youth organisation) and Denis Freney jointly, over the tenancy of a vacant building directly opposite the Resistance premises in Goulburn Street, Sydney, on which the lease was shortly due to expire.
Amid clouds of mutual abuse and recrimination, the Third World-Resistance complex got the lease, this ensuring their continuity in the Goulburn Street locality, which their previous two years of subversive activity and busts by the cops had put on the map.
Needless to say, the SP was a bit peeved at not becoming painless legatees to the desirable Goulburn Street address.
This dispute added a rather acrimonious touch to the already existing conflict in the RSA, and the final national conference of that body in September was a rather wing-ding, noisy affair, drawn up on extremely factional lines, with the ultraleft politics of Brian Laver receiving support from Freney, and a number of second-rank CPA leaders, like Brian Aarons, who had by now joined the RSA.
Once again they voted against the vehement opposition of Gould, the Percy brothers and the rest of the Resistance faction, for the proposition that support for the NLF should be the central slogan for all antiwar activity.
After this conference the RSA quietly faced away, more or less by mutual agreement, the roneod RSA communications from Freney becoming less frequent, and finally ceasing in early 1970.
The area of radical political interest now shifted to the antiwar movement. In Sydney in 1969 there had been a slow re-emergence of antiwar activity in Sydney, primarily in the form of Sydney University-based downtown marches. The most notable of these was the Worker-Student demonstration of April 23 (also notable for being ineffectually redbaited by Michael Cornelius Hetherington Karate Jones).
During this period the older, more conservative antiwar organisations had been completely quiescent in terms of demonstrations.
The Resistance coalition sent out a call for a December Mobilisation Against the War in Vietnam on December 15 around the central slogan of withdrawal of all foreign troops from Vietnam.
Predictably, they were attacked by Denis Freney and the Aarons faction of the CPA for not making the central slogan support for the NLF. What little publicity or subsequent coverage this demonstration received from the CPA paper, Tribune, was quite hostile.
However, the demonstration was energetically organised and publicised, and turned out to be the biggest antiwar demonstration held in Sydney during 1969. The very definite emergence of a previously unorganised layer of antiwar youth underlined the new possibilities for the antiwar movement.
After the December demonstration, all radical political groups put their efforts into preparations for the May 1970 Vietnam Moratorium, which because of its extremely broad sponsorship, provided the opportunity for a massive antiwar action.
Immediately preparations for the Vietnam Moratorium commenced, one of those quaint 180-degree turns, for which the Communist Party is so famous, became apparent.
All over Australia, despite their primitive rhetoric about support for the NLF, the CPA (and Denis Freney) emerged as among the most articulate exponents of the extremely sensible proposition that the Moratorium’s central slogan should be withdrawal of troops from Vietnam.
Predictably, those radical student groups that had been so ardently wooed by the CPA over the previous 12 months with the CPA’s rhetorical support for the NLF line, were at first somewhat perplexed by the CPA’s cynical, extremely swift and, it must be said, opportunistically shrewd, somersault.
To make the student groups’ outrage even more intense, in the factional struggles that developed during the Moratorium, the CPA took advantage of the unpopularity of the pro-NLF rhetoric of the radical student groups, played extremely subtly on the resentment that this engendered among trade unionists, liberals and pacifists, and almost effortlessly elbowed the radical student groups aside.
In Queensland, Victoria and South Australia they ensured that the AICD, CICD and CPV2 — structures based on left-wing trade union leaderships, and academic and religious liberals, and within which the CPA was the only really politically organised force — took complete physical control of the running of the Moratorium.
In all these states, AICD, CICD and CPV offices were the offices of the Moratorium, but in Victoria this organisational fact was not quite so significant because of the enormous role played by the independent intervention of the Victorian ALP and the personal role of Labor MP Jim Cairns.
Only in NSW did the AICD structure and the CP feel too insecure to force the issue of AICD running the Moratorium, largely because of the vociferous demands for an independent coalition-type Moratorium structure, put up by the NSW youth groups. These groups had a much bigger mass base in the antiwar movement due to their initiative in this sphere over the previous five years, and because they had successfully fought against being forced by the CPA to use support for the NLF as a mobilising slogan.
The Moratorium in NSW acquired a separate office, with some full-time staff from organisations other than AICD.
The Moratorium, given a massive impulse, as it was, by the Cambodian events, was a tremendous political success, both in terms of the enormous number of people who turned out and the way this forced itself on public consciousness through the spectacular occupations of the main streets during peak hours on Friday in Sydney and Melbourne.
However, the negative side of the Moratorium experience, in the relative inability of the revolutionary groups to effectively present anti-imperialist politics to the vast numbers of people who had taken the first step of opposition to the Vietnam War, dominated post-Moratorium analysis among the revolutionary youth groups.
The CPA congress and the Socialist Scholars Conference
At the CPA congress3, fortified by their complete control of the party apparatus, the Aarons faction virtually wiped out their opponents in the leadership and adopted innovating documents, which were an eclectic mish-mash of just about every “new idea” floating around the radical world.
However, the CPA hung on brutally to the prerogatives of monolithic leadership of the party, spelled out that no factionalism would be allowed, and in all the congress was a pretty dreary affair that alienated the large numbers of non-CPA student radicals who were invited to it.
Several of these published criticisms of the CPA after the congress, and in the event the sole notable recruit the CP gained in the post-congress period was the ever-optimistic former Trotskyist Denis Freney, who was appointed a full-time journalist on Tribune at the same national committee meeting that ratified his admission to the CPA.
During this period, the final kick of the dying CPA youth group, the Young Socialist League, took place. The sole functioning YSL branch in Sydney was instrumental in setting up a new headquarters in Glebe, known as the Radical Action Centre, or Barricades, in a large, old building with a shopfront.
No sooner had the headquarters been set up than a dispute over perspectives erupted, with the activists in the RAC and most of the residents of the premises (who it might be noted had been some of the CPA cannon-fodder in the crazy zigzags over support for the NLF) in conflict with the YSL leadership and the CPA.
The RAC activists wished the centre to become primarily a local radical community action centre in coalition with other radical youth groups.
The CPA and part of the leadership of the YSL wished to use the centre as a base to maintain the fiction of the YSL’s existence as a national youth group in opposition to the other youth groups.
The minority of the RAC, however, were heartily sick of the way they had been used in the past by the CPA in factional warfare with other youth groups.
Over the May vacation the disputatiously named Socialist Scholars Conference took place in Sydney. This gathering, which attracted more students and academics than the Left Action Conference, but less industrial workers, was organised on a totally independent basis by Phil Sandford, a rather taciturn independent Marxist who was deported a year or so ago from the US for his activities in Students for a Democratic Society.
From the start, the SSC was the subject of mild disfavour from the CPA because of Sandford’s determination to import as keynote speaker for the conference Ernest Mandel, Belgian Trotskyist economist, who he heard at the American Socialist Scholars Conference, and who had impressed him.
The CPA was really rather hostile to the idea of any such gathering taking place other than under its control, an attitude that only served to accentuate the incipient tendency towards independence on the part of the SSC.
The conference, which had a number of structural weaknesses, was a rather rowdy affair. The most striking feature of it was the rather ultraleftist, voluntarist, activist mood of the bulk of the student participants.
Intellectually, the keynote of the gathering was the brilliant “system building” a joint tour de force by Bruce McFarlane and Humphrey McQueen, who launched a far-ranging attack on all existent left-wing intellectual achievements and sketched out an extremely voluntarist version of Marxism, which in a half-digested form proved immediately popular with many of the student activists.
An extremely important polemic developed between them on the one hand and people such as Geoff Sharp, Bob Gollan and Bob Gould, on the question of Marxist method.
One striking feature of the SSC was the complete isolation of the CPA as a political current among the student vanguard. CPA leaders seldom spoke, and came in for constant criticism from all directions by participants in the debates.
The SSC, despite its defects, was the largest and most serious intellectual exchange between the major currents in the Australian student vanguard had yet held, and the CPA was clearly not a major current in this context.
CPA pulls out the hatchet
The CPA’s reaction to all these events was more or less inevitable.
In all the post-Moratorium comments in Tribune, a major motif was denunciation of student ultraleftists in the Moratorium, including such coy Stalinist amalgams as the one used by Eric Aarons in an article in which he bracketed unnamed anarchists with an unnamed “Fourth Internationalist” who was accused of saying: “I don’t care where I fucking well go, as long as there is violence”.
A rather despicable broadside was launched against erstwhile pin-up boy Brian Laver in the June 24 Tribune, which along with political criticism contained the filthiest attack this writer has ever seen in an allegedly working-class paper, ie an assertion, clearly based on the employer’s account of events, that Laver was sacked from a job not because of Moratorium activities but because the workers asked the boss to get rid of him (an argument that labour movement militants will recognise as one not infrequently used by employers).
Bernie Taft of the Victorian CPA wrote a long attack on the Socialist Scholars’ Conference repeating, without acknowledgement, methodological criticisms of McFarlane and McQueen made by others, mainly opponents of the CPA, at the conference, and accusing all and sundry present of anti-Communism for their political attacks on the CPA. Taft also bewailed the fact that the student activists didn’t display the slightest interest in the CPA’s eclectic congress documents.
The first day of Freney’s new Tribune job witnessed the appearance in Tribune of a rather bizarre full-page article denouncing Resistance, Student Underground, university Labour Clubs, Third World Bookshop and Bob Gould for numerous political crimes.
A rather interesting feature of this petulant article was the assertion, tacked on the end, that all the revolutionary youth groups opposed to the CPA were objectively counter-revolutionary, and the even more interesting promise of more articles to come on other counter-revolutionary youth groups.
The latest Australian Left Review contains another equally petulant article by Eric Aarons, bewailing the fact that no one had joined the CPA since the congress and attacking Resistance, Socialist Review, the International group, Osmond, Rowley, the MLs and assorted others.
The Aarons faction, having defeated its opposition in the CPA, is preparing to expel them when they produce their own ultra-Stalinist newspaper, which is about to appear.
To that end, Tribune has been full of denunciations of the pro-Russians for the awful crime in the Stalinist CPA of “factionalism”. This very desperate thrashing about in all directions has two causes, one of which is the physical decline of the CPA.
The collapse of the YSL, the revolt at Barricades, and the oppositional attitude of the radical student groups all block the Aarons faction from getting real influence in the youth and student movement.
On the other hand, although defeated by the Aarons faction within the party apparatus, the Clancy faction4 has the overwhelming sympathy of the majority of the old, rather conservative, full-time left-wing trade union officials and left-wing activists in the trade unions.
This layer has quietly separated itself from the CPA over the past year or so, and this withdrawal of support from Aarons by the previous major base of CPA industrial support will become more or less complete when the new ultra-Stalinist newspaper appears.
For instance, financial support for the CPA has dried up on the Sydney waterfront, at one time the party’s major financial base in the Sydney district, and no doubt most of that finance is now going towards the Watt-Ross group5.
The only optimistic sign in the CPA’s heaven is the political gain they have made out of their intervention as the most “sensible” radicals in the Moratorium.
The payoff for this was shown, for instance, at the rather well-attended AICD general meeting in Sydney a couple of weeks ago. The Aarons faction pulled off the rather interesting feat of both vastly expanding its public face on the AICD committee (new CPA committee members elected include national committee members Mavis Robertson, Jack Mundey, Laurie Carmichael and the ubiquitous Mr Freney) defeating a number of candidates the CPA did not entirely trust, including Building Workers Industrial Union president Frank O’Sullivan and BWIU office worker Jenny Healey.
The CPA also persuaded influential non-CPA liberals, including Sydney Morning Herald journalists and, for the first time ever, two Catholic priests, to serve on the committee.
The vastly increased Aarons faction contingent is the only organised radical group on the AICD committee.
At the Moratorium level, the Aarons faction has launched a vigorous struggle to ensure that the office for the next Moratorium, in September, is located in the small AICD building.
However, the obvious nature of the Aaron’s faction’s push for AICD to assert full hegemony of the next Moratorium has produced widespread alarm and opposition among the youth associated with the Moratorium.
A campaign launched by an Open Letter to Moratorium Sponsors has been started to see that the next Moratorium is organised by an open coalition, not dominated by the AICD.
This open letter, signed by a wide range of Moratorium secretariat members, activists in youth organisations, and by the editor of Honi Soit6 and Student Representative Council presidents at Sydney and New South Wales universities, generated a tremendous response at the last Moratorium sponsors’ meeting in Sydney, attended by more than 150 people. The meeting was almost equally divided on the questions in dispute.
The outcome of the developing trial of strength between the Aarons faction of the CPA and the revolutionary youth groups will depend, in the final analysis, on the speed at which the revolutionary youth movement can throw off the anarchistic spontaneism and elitism towards the labour movement and the working class, which are the adolescent deliriums of the radical youth movement.
The way in which the youth and student vanguard, in Sydney at least, has been able to shed some past errors and mediate existing factional antagonisms sufficiently to erect a very determined common front for democracy and independence within the framework of the Moratorium is an excellent omen.
More than this, however, the vanguard youth groups desperately need to understand how to shed the radical rhetoric of the student movement and commence a serious orientation towards the working class and the labour movement, wherein lies the real answer to the problems of building a revolutionary leadership in opposition to reformism and Aarons-style Stalinism, and capable of leading Australia to socialism.
1. The Bakery was headquarters for the mainly Maoist Worker Student Alliance, the main personalities of which were Albert Langer, Darce Cassidy and Mike Hyde. It was a former bakery in the inner-Melbourne suburb of Prahran.
Letter to The Old Mole, No 4, July 20, 1970
Comms wipeout read the poster advertising the last Old Mole on Sydney campus. Leaving aside the anti-communism involved in that particular piece of publicity, it was a curious “wipeout” when at least a third of the pages of your paper were involved in attacks on the Communist Party in one form or another.
The piece de resistance, so to speak, was of course, comrade Bob Gould’s, and it is with that I wish to mainly deal. I will ignore the gratuitous personal insults Gould splatters about him. Personally, I find it rather something of pride to be noted for my production of revolutionary material. It is a pity that others were not as prolific.
As the title inferred, the main line of Gould’s attack was that the “honeymoon” between the CPA and the “ultralefts”, such as Laver, at the Left Action Conference a year ago, was “over”.
The Left Action Conference, for Bob, was marked by “verbal hot air” about “occupation of the factories”, “action committees for dual power”, etc.
I, and the CPA, as revealed in its documents and action, do not however believe that was “hot air”, but rather key to a revolutionary strategy. I believe Brian Laver also still believes in that position.
The CPA has been carrying out a continuous educational campaign among its unionist militants and sympathisers for a revolutionary strategy in the unions, outlined particularly in the congress document, Modern Unionism, around the demand for workers’ control, occupation as a tactic, rank-and-file action committees around such things as the Moratorium, etc.
Moreover, in strikes, and particularly in the very important builders’ labourers strike last month, that strategy was applied in a militant fashion — including, note, occupation of building sites worked by scabs.
Interestingly enough, Gould nowhere mentions the builders’ labourers strike, even though he knows the BLF secretary, Jack Mundey, is also Sydney district CPA president.
Gould and Resistance did not carry out a single action in solidarity with the BLF. So much for the “hot air” of the worker-student alliance.
The “thunderous applause” Gould sneers at, for these calls for occupation, etc, at the Left Action Conference, was a very important sign of the revolutionary growth of the movement. Gould, of course, is essentially a conservative political animal and finds all this “ultraleft” and “adventurist” — as do, by the way, his allies in conservatism, the pro-Soviet, Stalinist opposition inside the Communist Party.
While grudgingly admitting that the congress documents of the “Aarons faction” were better than those of the “Neanderthal Stalinist opponents in the CPA”, Bob weeps many a tear for the Stalinists who are about to be expelled, so we are told, for “factionalism”.
Comrade Gould is well aware that there is no more democratically functioning party in the world than the CPA. Not a single person has been expelled for the past five years.
There is full freedom of tendency around ideas. But there is not, and can never be, in any party, room for a fully organised party within a party, with its separate paper, separate centre, separate discipline, aimed at sabotaging party decisions. That is what is happening, and it can never be tolerated anywhere, by anyone.
But the main question is political: the Stalinists remain crass apologists for the bureaucratic dictatorships in the USSR and Eastern Europe, and extremely conservative on unions, the antiwar movement, students and other planes.
Robert Gould’s main attack is, however, centred on the antiwar movement. He commits his first error when he misinterprets the decision of the last Left Action Conference on the NLF. Bob says: “Laver moved a resolution that all future antiwar activity should have as its central proposition “Support the NLF of South Vietnam”. The Aarons faction supported this (according to Gould).
In fact, the resolution that was carried reads: “That this conference for Left Action endorse the proposal that there should be a strenuous campaign for support of the program of the Vietnamese NLF, which includes the withdrawal of Australian and all foreign troops, as a strategic action this year.”
A dispute arose over what should be the mobilising slogans for the December 15 demonstration organised by Resistance last year. In fact, what I and others advocated was the inclusion of “Support the NLF” in the demo slogans. Gould not only opposed that, but opposed the production of a poster with that slogan. The YSL and others subsequently went ahead and produced such a poster.
But the basic argument has been missed by Gould. I have written many times (in International and Tribune) over the past year that there is little point in having small, basically vanguard, demonstrations of 1000 or 2000 (as December 15 turned out) around minimal slogans of “withdraw all troops now”. Therefore anti-imperialist slogans should be an integral part of such calls to demonstrations, and the main propaganda be anti-imperialist propaganda, aimed at raising the level of awareness of the mass antiwar movement.
That is what I and other advocated on December 15, and what we practised on July 3. It should be noted that Bob Gould opposed anti-imperialism being the keynote for July 3, and when it was accepted virtually boycotted the whole campaign.
I wrote in December 1969 that only when we had more than 10,000 in the street could we begin to talk of a mass demonstration. I then first put forward the concept of a “general national strike against the war and conscription” and that “if all other conditions are fulfilled we can win major victory in April (then the date of the Moratorium) by mobilising in the streets many thousands, and of even achieving the goal set of a quarter of a million … but it also provides the possibility and the absolute necessity of mobilising large numbers around the more revolutionary slogan of “victory to the NLF” and raising the whole consciousness of the class by injecting this concept into the struggle”.
There is no contradiction, except for the simple-minded, between vanguard mobilisation around anti-imperialist slogans, and that vanguard leading (and not handing it over to liberal and reformist elements) the mass movement around limited, but correct slogans such as “immediate withdrawal”; both are complementary and one without the other will lead to either ultraleftism or opportunism.
The CPA, therefore, has agreed and still does agree, with the “ultralefts” such as Brian Laver that injecting anti-imperialist demands into the struggle is an absolute prerequisite. We disagree with the sectarian way they want to do this, and their contempt for the mass of workers and students who support withdrawal or even shout “peace now”.
We will work with the Lavers and others to inject anti-imperialism into the mass movement, but will reject them when they do so in a sectarian way, or when they reject the mass movement (not to say that Brian Laver was the only one in the wrong in the “Laver incident”, which Gould and co now seek to exploit in their crusade against the “Aarons Stalinists”).
If that principled and dialectical policy constitutes a “somersault”, well and good.
It is at this point, of course, that Gould’s imagination takes over. Everywhere there are Stalinist plots. The radical students were “almost effortlessly elbowed aside” and the “CPA fronts” (shades of Willie Wentworth1) such as the AICD, “took complete physical control of the running of the Moratorium”.
The answer to this distortion and lie is easily found.
For a small group of some 30 active members, Resistance has a very large proportion of the Moratorium secretariat. Yet as this went on, despite large attendances at Moratorium meetings and Gould’s noisy disruption, the Resistance forces did next to nothing in the Moratorium. It is all very well to paint a picture of a takeover by AICD, but it is a fact that if AICD had not stepped into the gap there would have been a considerably less effective Moratorium. Gould himself immediately after the Moratorium paid tribute to the tremendous personal efforts and sacrifices made by AICD organisers such as Kim O’Hara, who carried the total technical and organisational work almost alone.
Gould’s effrontery is evident when I can state without fear of contradiction that in Manly-Warringah alone much more propaganda material was distributed than by the whole of that “major section” of the antiwar movement, the “Resistance-Third World Bookshop complex”.
How much physical work did Gould do? How much did the Percys? The lie of CPA-AICD liberals’ “manipulation” is not easy to maintain because Gould, and a number of other signatories to the Open Letter did very little indeed.
The “independent” office barely functioned and cost a great deal of money to satisfy Gould’s own manipulations. Gould has, since the Moratorium, been engaged in a frantic effort to take over the Moratorium, or if not, to separate the students into another mobilisation committee. This was his aim when he set out to develop the Student Mobilisation Committee. That failed due to the success of the Moratorium.
Gould has been hustling up support for his bid from all possible quarters. He has been running with his tales to the pro-Russian members of the CPA, to the Barry Robinsons, to the anarchist groupings, to Barricades, to his much-despised Maoists, to anyone who will be whipped up into a factional fury on the basis of primitive anti-communism.
But Gould’s efforts have been in vain, although successfully disrupting two sponsors’ meetings. His cry for a separate office is really hot air — the committee weeks ago commissioned one AICD supporter and a member of Resistance to find an office and conduct a cost analysis, to no avail (as yet). The AICD and most other sponsors would be quite happy if a reasonably priced and economically independent office could be established without ridiculous costs being involved. But some, without making independent inquiries, have swallowed Gould’s line, hook, line and sinker.
The decisive factor for them was Gould’s anti-Communist tales about it all being a “CPA plot”.
That well-known socialist scholar Bob Gould is also critical of the lack of contributions to the Socialist Scholars Conference. Maybe he has some point, but them sometimes silence is golden, particularly when, like Bob, you have nothing to say except that we should all join the ALP. Bernie Taft and Eric Aarons can at least claim a volume of printed theoretical material, which (among overseas Marxists with no axes to grind) is treated as serious stuff. That Eric and Bernie were in for “continuous criticism” whenever they did speak, is not necessary a criterion for judgement. After all, Bob, with all his intellectual agility, was not exactly cheered to the echo when he offered forth his wisdom.
As for the CPA “boycotting” the conference, Communists made efforts to ensure that it was widely advertised by the CPA, particularly in the Australian Left Review, and that CPA representatives attended all meetings they were invited to.
Gould’s version of the history of the Revolutionary Socialist Alliance is a typical distortion.
I personally took the initiative late in 1968 to attempt to get all revolutionary organisations and individuals linked in a loose alliance that would not claim to be a party but rather a forum and a means of joint action. The attempt failed due to Gould’s insistence on domination and his disruption on the pattern we have seen repeatedly at Moratorium meetings. The final blow came with an 11th-hour sabotaging of the attempt to get headquarters in Goulburn Street, Sydney, in an attempt to work fraternally with Resistance, and with full agreement from Gould. Gould “moved in” and took the lease himself.
The most interesting thing about Bob’s article is, of course, that he fails to reply to a single point of the critical analysis of the crisis in Resistance that I published in Tribune in June. We have offered to publish any reply Bob Gould would like to write. So far, not a word. Bob finds my analysis “bizarre” and “petulant”.
Gould’s crazy factionalism, his crude use of red-baiting and anti-Communism to win over people such as Robinson, the anarchists and anyone else he can whip up, including the CPA-Stalinist wing (who are closely consulted), is going to fail miserably because it is based on a whole fabric of lies and distortions.
It is the desperation of a man whose own political base in Resistance has collapsed and who is trying desperately to find allies in his hate campaign against the CPA. It is the last political fling of a man who has replaced political principles with opportunist manoeuvring and blocs.
Meanwhile, he provides amusement for those whose main interest is fun politics and a useful ally to those who, for their own purposes, want to prevent the real development of a revolutionary movement seriously engaged in mass politics.
At the beginning of the renewed Vietnam Moratorium Campaign the framework must be set up for its successful organisational functioning, and many lessons can be learned from the last one. To a large extent the organisational framework sets the tone of the movement, and inadequacies of the previous campaign should be recognised and remedied.
The Moratorium is a mass campaign that is united around the common demands of immediate withdrawal of all allied troops from Indochina and an immediate end to conscription. But its various organising committees are coalitions of antiwar groups that necessarily differ widely in their views of society, the war and the peace movement.
The Moratorium office
One of the first decisions of the sponsors in the last campaign was to set up a Moratorium office on politically neutral grounds to administer the decisions of the meetings. Susan Fialkin was appointed to act as full-time administrative officer. The office was equipped with one duplicator, one typewriter and one telephone. This was adequate in the first stages of the campaign, but when the volume of work began to increase no action was taken to extend the facilities to cope with it. Members of AICD who had been assisting Susan Fialkin, in fact found it necessary to work almost full-time on the Moratorium in the AICD premises.
When Susan Fialkin resigned and Deidre Jones and Susan Thornton were hired to replace her, a large amount of work was still being done in the office. But due to the lack of staff and equipment, even more work was done by AICD although this was never requested by the office staff, or discussed at the meetings of the secretariat, committee or sponsors. For example, inquiries began to be directed to the AICD premises, publicity material was delivered there for distribution, newsletters and reports were written and roneod there. In the final stages of the campaign, even small, routine organisational meetings were held in the AICD library, in the BWIU hall, and in the Boilermakers and Blacksmiths’ hall. This arbitrary and abrupt changing of meeting places caused unnecessary confusion and resulted in poor attendance of meetings.
Members of the secretariat voiced their opposition to this but the majority of full-time workers on the secretariat were also full-time workers of AICD. This came about as AICD decided to pay five of their own staff to work for the campaign — although they have now claimed $2000 of their expenses from the Moratorium funds.
Although Susan Thornton and Deidre Jones were in the Moratorium office full-time and attended most secretariat meetings they found they were becoming increasingly unaware of day-to-day events and decisions. For example, Ros Cheney was appointed as publicity officer and had been working from AICD for some time before Deidre, Susan and some other members of the secretariat found out. Also, Ken O’Hara, who had offered to take on the difficult task of ordering and distributing publicity material, did this from AICD and deliveries were made to those premises. People had to be increasingly directed there to order and collect material.
It finally reached the stage where AICD was working flat out for the Moratorium and the Moratorium office itself was practically non-functioning. In other words, due to its inadequacy the Moratorium office became an adjunct of AICD.
The functioning of the secretariat should also be looked at in relation to the running of the office. The role of the secretariat is to carry out decisions made by the sponsors. The original secretariat of seven was enlarged to 13 due to the general lack of activity by most people involved. It became obvious that a secretariat member, to carry out his role adequately, had to spend most of his time on Moratorium work, and this was only possible for those who did not have other job commitments.
Proposals for the coming Vietnam Moratorium campaign
We see the need for the following measures in this campaign:
- That an independent Moratorium office with at least two separate rooms be set up on politically neutral grounds adequately equipped with a switchboard, filing cabinets, several typewriters and duplicators, etc (these could be borrowed or hired).
- That the Moratorium office be staffed with at least eight full-time people, administering all areas of publicity, finance, organising trade unions, on campus, etc.
- That the office staff should be co-opted to the secretariat and receive equal pay (we suggest a figure around $40 per week.
- That this staff be drawn in a representative way from all sections of the antiwar movement. This would avoid political bias.
- That the staff and facilities of the Moratorium office be enlarged at any time necessary, and that the principle of representation apply to new people employed.
The two principles that we wish to stress are non-imposition of any political line on the Moratorium, and the non-exclusion of any sponsoring organisations from its decision-making. That presupposes a completely independent central base.
The duties of the secretariat members — carrying out sponsor decisions, investigating recommendations and implementing general organisational work — is a full-time occupation. On previous experience it is obvious that at least eight people will be required to work full-time at the height of the campaign. To do this adequately, these people need to work from one base and be in constant communication with each other.
Deidre Jones, Moratorium office; Susan Thornton, Moratorium office and secretariat; Phil Sandford, secretariat; Sandra Hawker, secretariat; Jim Percy, secretariat; Haydn Thompson, secretariat; Jim Mulgrew, secretariat; Tony Dewberry, Resistance; Peter Burnett, Barricades; Helen Voysey, Student Underground; Warwick Donley, Sutherland Moratorium Youth Group; Stephen Bock, Glebe Moratorium; Jeni Thornley, Balmain Moratorium; Hall Greenland, Sydney University Labour Club; Barry Robinson, Sydney University Student Representative Council president; Deidre Ferguson, Sydney University Staff-Student Moratorium Committee; Barbara Levy, Womens Liberation; John Geaki, University of NSW Student Representative Council president; Robynne Murphy, University of NSW Student Youth Mobilisation Committee; Mel Bloom, editor, Honi Soit; Joanne Horniman, Macquarie University Women’s Liberation Group; Peter Voysey, Macquarie University Student Mobilisation Committee